Jess smiling at camera

From the footy field to fighting for life

Date published

31 Oct 2022

This photo of 22-year-old Jess was taken one hour before the moment she almost died. She looks happy and relaxed—a picture of health. It’s almost impossible to believe what happened next.

Jess smiling

Jess went into cardiac arrest while attending a local rugby match. For 10 minutes, her heart stopped. For 22 minutes, bystanders did CPR in a desperate attempt to bring her back, before she was urgently taken to Gladstone Hospital by a QAS ambulance.

Jess’s mum Trudy’s phone rang at around 6.30pm.“I was told Jess had been brought into Gladstone Hospital and she was very sick,” remembers Trudy.

It was simply impossible for Trudy to understand. Jess was young, physically active and strong.

“At first, the doctor told me they were flying her to Brisbane, but then they called back to say they couldn’t stabilise her. I needed to come straight to Gladstone Hospital. They were basically telling me to come and say my goodbyes.”

As Trudy was on her way to Gladstone, every minute felt like an eternity. “I just wanted to get to my child,” she says.

At the same time, one of our aeromedical crews had been tasked by Retrieval Services Queensland and was flying up from our Brisbane Base.

Jess doesn’t remember anything about what happened that day and, of course, Trudy wasn’t there. But they’ve pieced together the shocking events of that afternoon from those who were there and can’t forget.

Jess is a member of a rugby club and played every week. But that day, she’d come along to run water for the men’s team. Nothing taxing—just a fun, relaxing day. 

Jess’s one-year-old daughter, Amanii, would usually have been with her. Jess and Trudy are forever grateful that she was spending the afternoon with her cousin instead.

When Trudy arrived at Gladstone Hospital, she discovered her 22-year-old daughter’s life was hanging by a thread.

“I was crying. It was a mess. I just couldn’t figure it out."

The next time Trudy saw her daughter, she was in the Intensive Care Unit at the Prince Charles Hospital. For five days, Jess was in an induced coma.

Jess and Amalii

Trudy didn’t stop talking to her—making sure she knew she was loved and needed and just had to get better.

She put photos on the wall so that the first thing Jess would see would be Amanii—her number one reason to keep fighting.

Jess was found to have pneumonia and influenza. Her lungs had flooded with fluid, and her heart had failed in the attempt to keep pumping oxygen around her body.

Thankfully, she responded well to treatment and, after five days, she was well enough to wake up from her coma. She spent a further week recovering before she was reunited with Amanii.

Later, Jess had surgery to have a defibrillator fitted. Since then, she’s gone back to being a busy and active mum. She works two jobs—one as a sports development officer in schools.

She’s even managed to play competitive rugby again, which tells you everything you need to do know about her courage.

The whole family is recovering in their own way. For a few weeks, Amanii didn’t want to be parted from her mum but now, she’s a happy and confident two-year-old.

For Trudy, it’s more difficult. She can’t forget how close she came to losing her daughter.

“For Jess, it’s a complete blank—from taking Amanii to the zoo to waking up in hospital,” says Trudy.“But I remember. As a family, we’ll always be grateful to the Flying Doctor. You’re such an asset to communities like ours."

Every year, thousands of patients like Jess fly into our RFDS Brisbane Base, which acts as a gateway to Queensland’s hospital services.

Our facilities there have served us well, but to meet the growing population and the increasing need we’re facing now—and will face for years to come—we have started planning for a new Brisbane Super Base. It will be part of the Queensland Regional Aeromedical Hub that is being built thanks to a significant investment by the Queensland Government and will bring all aeromedical providers together as part of a fully integrated network.

Critically ill patients in regional, rural and remote locations rely on fast access to aeromedical teams and the required medical equipment.

That’s why the new RFDS Brisbane Super Base will have an Operations Control Centre to ensure we can deploy our aircraft as quickly and efficiently as possible. For patients like Jess, every minute counts.

Will you donate today? Your gift will help fit-out the new RFDS Brisbane Base and establish an innovative Operations Control Centre and Virtual Health Hub to enhance our care to Queenslanders.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service (Queensland Section) delivers hospital transfer flights as part of the Queensland Health Aeromedical Network, ensuring every Queenslander can get to the care they need.

The RFDS is grateful for the support of the community, donors and our partners to fit-out aircraft, purchase vital medical equipment, train our front-line staff and invest in innovative technology and new services to provide the finest care to the furthest corners of Queensland.